The network infrastructure is changing. We are moving from hierarchical networks with complex systems at the core and simple elements at the edge towards a more uniform network with a flat structure. New networks are being built using low latency switches and separate controller. These are the key components of Software Defined Networking (SDN). In parallel many of the fixed function systems in the hierarchical network are being replaced with virtualized functions implemented on standard server systems. This approach is being standardized through ETSI as Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).


In this blog I am going to review the benefits of using Intel® Xeon® processor E3-1105C with the Intel® Communications Chipset 89xx Series (formerly code named Cave Creek) and the Intel® Ethernet Switch FM6700 Series for SDN and NFV. For this blog I am exploring the reference platforms developed by ADI Engineering, Inc. an Associate member Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. The 250-plus members of the Alliance collaborate closely with Intel to create hardware, software, tools, and services to help speed intelligent systems  to market.


Separating Switch and Control Functions


Software Defined Networking (SDN) separates the switch and control functions making the network simpler and easier to manage. SDN-enabled switches route packets using a Flow Table. The Flow Tables are managed by controllers that communicate with the switches through a secure channel using the OpenFlow protocol. The OpenFlow specifications are managed by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF).


The OpenFlow protocol allows controllers to manage and configure switches from different vendors. Carriers and service providers can choose to source all network elements from the same vendor, use different vendors for controllers and switches or have some of the systems built specifically for their networks. This gives carriers and service providers significant flexibility to deliver new services and manage costs.


Small form Factor  Intel® Communications Reference Platform


The ADI Engineering developed the Small Form Factor Intel® Communications Reference Platform (Figure 1) is a single width AMC module with Intel Xeon processor E3-1105C with 4GB DDR3 memory. The Intel Xeon processor E3-1105C is ideal for embedded applications with four 1GHz hyperthreaded 64-bit cores and a low max TDP power of 25W.


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Figure 1. ADI Quadrant AMC Reference Platform.


As shown in Figure 2, the ADI Quadrant AMC Reference Platform also integrates the Intel Communications Chipset 89xx Series. The Intel Communications Chipset 89xx Series device integrates the Platform Controller Hub (PCH) functions, four Gigabit Ethernet (GE) interfaces and Intel® QuickAssist Technology acceleration for compression and encryption. The ADI Quadrant AMC module has dual GE interfaces on the front panel and both dual 10GE and dual GE interfaces to the system.


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Figure 2. ADI Quadrant AMC Reference Platform Block Diagram.


SDN Enabled Switch Chips


The Intel® Ethernet Switch FM6000 Series are low latency 10GE and 40GE switch devices. The devices are used in a number of different switching systems including top of rack (ToR) switches for data centers. The Intel Ethernet Switch FM6000 Series support wire speed L3 routing and MPLS. The devices have a programmable Intel® FlexPipeTM frame-processing pipeline and single output queue, shared memory architecture. The largest Intel Ethernet Switch FM6000 Series devices support 640Gbps bandwidth with up to 64 10GE ports. Blocks of four 10GE ports can be configured to support a 40GE port.


The Intel Ethernet Switch FM6700 devices integrate additional functionality specifically for SDN applications. The Intel FlexPipe frame processor is used to parse and process SDN packets. The Intel Ethernet Switch FM6700 devices support 4,000 OpenFlow 12-tuple table entries that can be searched in a single pass. The solution will support OpenFlow, VB, VxLAN and NVGRE.


Open Network Platform for Switches Reference Platform


The Open Network Platform (ONP) for Switches Reference Platform (Figure 3) is an SDN-enabled, 48-port 10GE ToR switch with four 40GE uplink ports. The reference platform integrates Intel Ethernet Switch FM6700 and Intel Xeon processor E3-1105C. The Intel Ethernet Switch FM6700 device is mounted in the center with two power supplies on each side and the ADI Quadrant AMC module above. The reference platform is available as Open IP allowing companies to source systems through ADI Engineering or elsewhere.


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Figure 3. Open Network Platform for Switches Reference Platform.


Figure 4 shows the complete reference platform block diagram. Software support for the platform includes Intel SDN framework, Intel® Ethernet Switch SDK/API, Intel® Firmware Support Package (Intel® FSP) royalty-free x86 boot loader, Intel® Data Plane Development Kit (Intel® DPDK), Intel® QuickAssist Technology drivers, and Fedora Linux. The platform will also be supported by the Wind River ONS OpenFlow software.



Figure 4. The Open Network Platform for Switches Reference Platform Block Diagram.


Accelerating the Shift to SDN/NFV


Low latency switches and cost-effective processors will be at the core of next-generation networks. SDN and NFV will give carriers and service providers a significant increase in flexibility and a reduction in total cost of ownership. The ONP for Switches Reference Platform, and software that is becoming available for it, will allow companies to quickly develop new solutions for SDN and NFV.


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ADI Engineering, Inc. and Wind River Systems are an Associate members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.

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Simon Stanley

Roving Reporter (Intel® Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Principal Consultant, Earlswood Marketing

Follow me on Twitter: @simon_stanley